WASHINGTON – The rise of the Islamic State, the former ISIS, has prompted Saudi Arabia to re-think its funding and arming of Sunni rebel groups in Syria, many of whom are now joining the Islamic State as it threatens to attack the Saudi kingdom.
Informed sources say that while Saudi Arabia will impose stricter, yet undefined, controls over the Sunni groups it supports to counter the Iranian-backed Shiite groups in Syria, its attention now has become more riveted on its own security.
As part of the new Saudi strategy, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz appointed Prince Khalid bin Bandar as head of Saudi intelligence to replace Prince Bandar, who recently was relieved of his position. Prince Khalid previously was deputy minister of defense.
Renewed concern over Saudi security comes after a recent WND report that Islamic State fighters have declared Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia are their next targets, after Jordan, under new caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now known as Khalifah Ibrahim.
Saudi security officials recently arrested 62 members of the Islamic State predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq and the al-Sham (Greater Syria). ISIS had a cell in the Saudi kingdom preparing to target Saudi “government and foreign interests” while planning large-scale assassinations.
The cell was uncovered by Saudi intelligence monitoring of ISIS social networks. There still are some 44 Islamic State members being hunted down by Saudi security.
Because of heightened security concerns inside the Saudi kingdom, Abdullah has ordered some 30,000 Saudi troops along its 500-mile border with Iraq to protect it against a possible attack by the Islamic State.
Establishment of the caliphate with the elimination in its title of Iraq and al-Sham means that Khalifah Ibrahim has designs on all lands where Sunni Muslims reside.
“Now that the Islamic caliphate is a fait accompli,” one source said, “all eyes will be on Mecca and Medina next.”
Even backers of the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front, which grew out of the original Islamic State of Iraq under al-Baghdadi, have questioned the meaning of the caliphate.
The source said the move means the Sunni Taliban and various al-Qaida-linked groups – wherever they might be active, such as al-Nusra in Syria or Ansar al-Shariah in Libya – would be “committing a sin.”
As a consequence, under a lengthy declaration from Islamic State titled “This is the Promise of Allah,” fighting and killing fighters of these other jihadist groups would be a duty, unless they accept Baghdadi as their leader.
Abdullah’s order to dispatch 30,000 Saudi troops comes after the departure of a reported 2,500 Iraqi troops along the border to go north to fight the Islamic State. While Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has denied the report, some of those Iraqi troops have gone public saying they have been ordered to confront the Islamic in the northern part of the country.
The Islamic State threat to Saudi Arabia poses an economic threat to the world, since Saudi Arabia is the world’s top oil exporter.
In anticipation of IS targeting Saudi Arabia, Abdullah recently met with newly elected Egyptian President Fattah el-Sisi, who had significant Saudi backing to discuss counter-terrorism assistance for the kingdom. Accompanying him was Prince Bandar, an informed source told WND.
The potential threat Islam’s two most holy places, Mecca and Medina, comes as the IS, a splinter group originally from al-Qaida but later split over major differences and tactics, just announced a new “emir” or leader for Lebanon. Beirut increasingly is becoming a target as existing Sunni fighters from al-Nusra and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in the country join the IS victory march to establish its caliphate in the Levant, also known as Greater Syria.
The new emir is Abdel Salam al-Ordoni, a Palestinian, who lived in some of the Palestinian camps in Lebanon.
As WND previously has reported, sources have expressed concern that uprisings of unemployed, disgruntled young people from the Palestinian camps could erupt into open violence and prompt a cascading effect toward a Sunni-Shiite conflict reminiscent of the a civil war that enveloped that country from 1975 to 1990.
Sources believe that with IS chief Baghdadi’s choice of the Palestinian Ordoni leading IS in Lebanon, it could mean that the emphasis for conflict will originate from the Palestinian camps.
One such camp is Ain el-Hilweh in Saida, or Sidon, a Sunni stronghold just south of Beirut. It also is the location for the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and other Sunni jihadist fighter groups, including the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, in a camp of some 100,000 people.
In a country of 4 million people which not only has taken in more than a million Syrian refugees in recent years but has some 400,000 Palestinians – 90 percent of whom are unemployed – Lebanon is experiencing increasing unrest. The turmoil has been exasperated by increased cutbacks in basic services, especially in electricity and the delivery of fresh water.
With services already stretched as the country begins to experience three-digit temperatures, there are concerns that such conditions will only further the potential for violence as the parliament refuses to meet to elect a president.
The tightening of essential services also comes as Muslims adhere to the month-long period of fasting called Ramadan. So far, however, Sunni jihadists, including IS, have not lessened their attacks during this fasting period that ends July 28.
As one observer recently told WND: “Lebanon is broken.”
It is a condition ripe for increased attacks from Sunni jihadist groups as IS threatens to take over Lebanon with the help of disgruntled Sunnis and Sunni Palestinians.
“The security situation is dangerous in light of what’s happening in Iraq,” Lebanese Parliament speaker Nabih Berri told a news conference.
After months of inactivity, a rash of suicide car bombings has resumed, especially in the Hezbollah stronghold of south Beirut.
Sunnis, who are aiding al-Nusra and Abdullah Azzam Brigades fighters, have promised more improvised explosive device attacks due to Hezbollah fighters being in Syria to help prop up the government of Shiite-Alawite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
IS could take advantage of the chaos and government paralysis by moving in and urgently addressing the increasing demand for essential services.